Despite alternating heat and pouring rain, on Aug. 7 a tiny church in Chelsea used a unique method to show their community they care. Giving away bags with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, chips, water, information about the church, a gospel tract and the pastor’s business card, Mount Signal Baptist Church once again showed it isn’t going to die without a fight.
“This is our way of trying to better relate to the growing population around our church facility by saying, ‘Hello, we want to serve you if we can,’” pastor Leonard Irvin explained. ”We are a small congregation, but our desire is to remain spiritually relevant in our community for as long as we can, as we try to share the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether you go to our church, some other church or to no church at all, as long as the sandwiches last, we will try to help you have a better day in Jesus’ name.”
Mount Signal has a history of “serving the Kingdom with what [they] have.”
Founded in 1940, for its first year Mount Signal met in open air in a couple’s backyard, not once being rained out. Two different times attendance peaked at around 125. Then from 1999 to 2001, only three faithful members kept the church going. In 2003, Irvin first preached there, later becoming pastor.
In 2008, Irvin decided they needed a shift in attitude from worrying over their tiny, struggling church to helping a ministry that was thriving.
As a supporter of Gardendale First Baptist Church, which was about to kick off a $55 million building campaign, Irvin challenged Mount Signal to give its entire offering from one week’s service — $622.45 — to Gardendale FBC.
Gardendale First members were deeply touched. They used that sacrificial gift as part of their campaign and, in return, gave Mount Signal a love offering of $28,157. Mount Signal used it to repave their parking lot, giving away most of the rest to needs in the community.
Though Mount Signal is a “senior citizen congregation averaging about 15 people per Sunday,” Irvin continues to come up with innovative ways to be relevant.
“We have done revival services using local area ministers (some of them Pentecostal) to emphasize that no one church or denomination owns the gospel — we are all on the same team, just playing different positions on the spiritual field,” Irvin said. “In 2019, we hosted a special law enforcement memorial service in honor of slain Sgt. Wytasha Carter of the Birmingham Police Department, my department before I retired from police work.”
The inspiration for the Chick-fil-A outreach came from Mark Clifton’s “Mondays with Mark,” in which he suggests ways to help small churches turn around. Some at Mt. Signal thought it could be considered a bribe and were concerned about the cost, but let Irvin plan it.
Though the budget was tight, Irvin knew God controlled their finances, allotting enough for 200 sandwiches. He talked to Daniel Wilson at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions about donating gospel tracts. Wilson loved the idea and also found a way to help with the sandwiches.
“I believe the Lord laid it on my heart to support Brother Leonard’s outreach ministry because he is getting his church folk outside the walls of the building,” Wilson explained. “Brother Leonard is finding tangible ways to show Jesus’ love to his community. Any time the evangelism office can help pastors and churches get into their neighborhoods to build bridges for the gospel, then we’re all in.”
After nearly four hours, the 200 bags of food were given away. Through donations from community members who wouldn’t take the food for free, and the gift of a couple not in the community who wanted to be part, the event ended up not costing the church anything.
“We ultimately don’t know what will become of our effort, but seeds have been planted, and our part of the Chelsea community knows we care about them,” Irvin said. “We were responsible for trying, and now it’s the Lord’s turn.”
As long as Irvin is pastor of Mount Signal, he said, he will continue to encourage the small congregation to give what they can to reach out to the community.
“Then and now, God stepped in and multiplied our finances. We are in an equally adverse situation now as the one then, but we have learned that you can’t out-give God. We may come to the point in the future that we have to consider church adoption/replanting to survive into another generation,” Irvin said.
”I believe the church has bought into my thinking that if we have to cease operations at some point in the future, we would rather do that with an empty bank account than have money that was available for Kingdom service and never used. How do you explain that to God?”